Category Archives: Music

Ready for Homecoming? Its arts-and-culture focus turns 5 this year.


It’s been five years since the University introduced an arts-and-culture focus to Homecoming weekend — a focus we here at the Arts Blog happen to love. Each year we bring you a roundup of the events we’re most excited to attend. Here is this year’s list. (Note that advance online registration for certain events, available here, closes at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. You can find the full schedule of events for Homecoming weekend here.)

FRIDAY, NOV. 8, 2013

  • Tour of Penn’s 19th-Century Architectural Masterpieces (2 – 3: 30 p.m., leaves from the steps of College Hall): David Brownlee, the Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of Art, will guide alumni through the 19th-century architectural gems on campus. (Advance registration is required. A tour focused on Penn’s 20th-century architectural masterpieces departs from the top level of Garage #40 on Saturday at 2 p.m.)
  • Opening Reception: Penn Alumni Artist Exhibit (4 – 7 p.m., 2nd floor of the Inn at Penn): The Burrison Gallery presents its first show devoted to alumni artists. Works on display will include photographs, paintings, mixed-media and etchings, all of which will be up for sale. The exhibition will remain on view through Dec. 20, 2013.
  • Film Sound: The evolution of the subversive art of sound in movies (3:30 – 5 p.m., Claudia Cohen Hall): Alumni filmmakers David Novack EAS’86 and Nancy Levy Novack C’87 return as co-curators for the Alumni Film Festival this year. In this session, they’ll discuss film sound’s history and evolution. (Advance registration is encouraged, and a reception follows from 5 – 5:30 p.m. On Saturday at 5:45 p.m., the Film Festival will screen Head Games, which exposes the concussion as a leading public health issue and features several Penn scientists and clinicians.)

SATURDAY, NOV. 9, 2013

  • Classes without Quizzes: The City and the Museum (10 – 11:30 a.m., Meyerson Hall): David Brownlee will join Gail Harrity, president and COO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and architect Tod Williams to discuss museums’ design history and their continuing impact. (Registration at
  • Life in the World of Theatre Today (10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m., Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts): This broad discussion of the theatrical professional boasts a number of distinguished panelists: Jed Bernstein C’77, Broadway producer and president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Lori Fineman C’92 W’92, executive director of Transport Group Theatre Company; Stephanie Kramer (Penn Parent ’16), board member of the Roundabout Theatre Company; and Brett Sirota C’89, CEO of The Road Company. Vickie Reiss, executive director of The Shubert Foundation, will moderate.
  • Curator Conversation: Jason Rhoades, Four Roads (11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Institute of Contemporary Art): ICA Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner leads a Q&A discussion of the museum’s current exhibition, Jason Rhoades, Four Roads. Roads kicks off the ICA’s 50th anniversary year and marks the first U.S. survey of the artist’s work. (Docent-led tours of the exhibit will follow from 1 – 5 p.m.)
  • Classes without Quizzes: How to Teach Poetry to 42,000 Students at Once: ModPo, MOOCs, and Online Learning (4 – 6 p.m., Kelly Writers House): Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and faculty director of the Writers House, is in the midst of teaching ModPo — a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry — for the second time right now. His students number in the tens of thousands and live all over the world. In this session, he’ll discuss teaching poetry via MOOC.
  • Gallery Hop (4 – 6 p.m., starts at the Arthur Ross Gallery): This year’s hop stops at the Arthur Ross Gallery (Auguste Rodin: The Human Experience), the architectural archives (Louis Kahn: Three Houses) and the special collections center at the library (Recent Acquisitions). A director or curator will be available at each stop to discuss the works on view.

SUNDAY, NOV. 10, 2013

  • Mural Arts Tour (10 a.m. – 12 p.m., departs from Inn at Penn): The group will explore Center City and West Philadelphia via antique trolley, taking in the murals each has to offer. (Pre-registration is required and there is a $35 fee for this event.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni, Museums, Music, Theatre, Visual Art

Performing ‘Syrinx’ for a sphinx

Alumna flutist Mimi Stillman G’03 Gr’12 has spent the last year celebrating the 150th anniversary of composer Claude Debussy’s birth. Every day from August 22, 2012, through August 22, 2013 — 366 times in all — Stillman recorded herself playing Debussy’s “Syrinx for Solo Flute.” Why did she choose that piece? She explains on her website:

‘Syrinx’ is one of the most important works ever written for solo flute. Composed in 1913 as instrumental music for Gabriel Mourey’s play Psyché, this 2 1/2 minute jewel highlights Debussy’s ability to create a universe of moods and timbres in microcosm, to invoke the soul of the instrument for which he writes, and to spark the imaginations of performers and listeners alike. Originally titled ‘La Flûte de Pan,’ the work was performed from the wings during Pan’s death scene, giving rise to the current performance practice of performing Syrinx in a darkened room. The eminent flutist Louis Fleury gave the premiere performances and subsequently included the piece in his recitals.

After playing “Syrinx” in concert halls, on the banks of the Schuylkill and even at a family seder table, Stillman visited the Penn Museum last month to perform beside the institution’s large Egyptian sphinx.

She recalled the experience on her site:

Today’s Syrinx performances at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology were among the highlights of my nearly entire year of performing Debussy’s work every day, and I have done so in many impressive and beautiful places. In this video, I appear in the Egyptian gallery with the largest sphinx in the Western hemisphere and architectural features from the palace of the pharaoh Merenptah (r. 1213-1204 BCE). The palace, located in Memphis in Lower Egypt, is the best preserved royal palace excavated in Egypt. The red granite sphinx is inscribed with the names of the pharoah Ramesses II, and his son and successor Merenptah.

As my sound reverberated against the ancient stone, I wondered about all the other sounds the sphinx, standing so grandly and impassively through the ages, had heard.

Want to hear Stillman’s sound reverberating against the ancient stone for your self? Check out this video, which documents the performance:

And check out WHYY’s video interview with Stillman:

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni, Music

Check out these Penn acts from the Make Music Philly festival


Penn joined the rest of Philadelphia in a new annual tradition late last month: Make Music Philly. The free, citywide, “do-it-yourself” music festival marks the summer solstice and World Music Day, with Philly joining more than 500 cities around the world in a day of tuneful celebration. On campus, that meant performances at the Penn Museum, the Rotunda, WXPN and the Music Building’s patio.

We arrived at the sunny patio just in time to see Classical Revolution Philly, featuring Veronica Jurkiewicz C’04, performance coordinator of the Penn Music Department. Here’s a video from Penn Arts & Culture:

And here are the videos we shot of alumnus singer/songwriter Matt Chylak C’13

…and “art-rockers” The Chairman Dances (featuring Andrew Ciampa C’13 and Penn Libraries staff members Ben Rosen and Eric Krewson):

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni, Music

John Legend C’99 talks to Penn

legendYesterday wasn’t just any drizzly winter Wednesday. Here at Penn, it was the day John Legend C’99 came to Irvine Auditorium and delivered the 12th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture in Social Justice.

The evening started with a violin performance of “Ordinary People” by English Ph.D. student Melanie Hill. Here’s a snippet:

Following an introduction by President Amy Gutmann, Legend — a singer, songwriter, Grammy winner, philanthropist, activist and Counterparts alumnus — sat down with Camille Charles, director of Penn’s Center for Africana Studies, for a wide-ranging discussion of his work and life.

Growing up in Ohio, Legend was mainly home-schooled and skipped three grades, eventually entering Penn as a 16-year-old freshman. He said he discovered a host of musical influences while living in Philadelphia — including the Roots and Common — and noted that, “no one says, ‘Go to Penn so you can break into the music business’…but it actually was very helpful to me in becoming a recording artist.”

After reflecting on his early days in the industry, Legend discussed his lifelong interest in social justice. It began at home, he said. His family always stressed the importance of giving back, taking in foster children and, at one point, an entire family. “If you’re living a life that means anything,” he added, “you’re fighting for social justice.”

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation — and Kanye West’s now-infamous statement that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people” — Legend got to thinking about the neglect communities around the world have suffered. He launched the Show Me Campaign a few years later, using his 2007 song of the same title as a model:

More specifically, the Show Me Campaign aims to “break the cycle of poverty using solutions that have been proven to improve people’s lives and to give them the opportunities to survive, thrive and succeed,” according to its website.

The conversation in Irvine Auditorium then turned to Legend’s connection with the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman. Here’s what he said about that:

And here’s the song he wrote for the film:

The evening ended with a question-and-answer session, during which Legend predicted that we will soon see more socially focused music.

To read more about alumnus John Legend, check out this 2011 Gazette interview and 2005 feature.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni, Music

Our 5 most popular posts of 2012

You may remember our “best of” (i.e. most-viewed) blog post countdown from last year. We’re back with another for 2012, only this time with a twist: We decided that only posts written this year would be included.

Before we get into our countdown, ever wonder where people are reading this blog?
Picture 1

It seems the answer is “all over the place.” This past year, we had visitors from Zimbabwe, Argentina, Australia, Thailand and 90 other countries. (Long-distance readers: please say hello sometime in the comments!)

Now, without further ado, here are our five most popular posts from 2012:

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni, Film, Music, Television, Theatre, Visual Art, Written Word

A long read, a quick watch and a new listen

The holiday season is upon us, and sometimes the greatest gift is time to relax, unwind and not think about the holiday season being upon us. For those who are looking forward to some days off in the coming weeks — or will at least have a free hour or two — here are a few Penn-arts-related offerings for a long read, a quick watch and a new listen:

READ this interview with Erik Larson C’76 from Creative Nonfiction. (He even mentions his time at Penn: “I studied history at the University of Pennsylvania, but that’s because the history professors were some of the best. I got lured into Russian history, in particular, by a fantastic professor. I got so drawn into Russian history by this guy that it changed my whole college plan. Suddenly I was Russian history, Russian language, Russian literature.”) For more on Larson, you can see his summer reading suggestions from this blog post or read the Gazette’s most recent review of his work.

LISTEN to music from aspiring rapper/hip-hop artist — and Wharton sophomore — Taylor McLendon, a.k.a. “Ivy Sole.” More than 30 tracks are available on her SoundCloud stream. McLendon spoke to the Daily Pennsylvanian last month about her work, describing her main goal as an artist: “If I can make a song that 50 years from now can send you back to that time but still be relevant, I think that would be the greatest thing ever.”

WATCH The Simpsons writer and executive producer — and former Gazette student columnist — Matt Selman C’93 discuss some of his favorite moments from working on the show, video below. (You can also read about how Selman helped the Button make an appearance on The Simpsons in this 2008 Gazette story and see an excerpt from one of his student columns here.)

1 Comment

Filed under Alumni, Music, Television, Written Word

Coming this fall: the Blutt Band Slam

Speaking of Penn-grown bands, we’re looking forward to a new event at Homecoming this year: the Blutt Band Slam. Made possible by Mitchell Blutt, C’78, M’82, WG’87, the competition is open to both student and alumni musicians. Participants can perform solo or with a group, vocally or instrumentally, and in all genres and styles. Cash prizes of up to $1,000 will be awarded.

We asked Blutt what inspired him to sponsor a Band Slam at Penn. Was he active in the arts scene as a student? He said (via email):

I was uninvolved in musical activities when I was an undergraduate at Penn. Since then, I’ve wished for Penn students to have more exposure to the remarkable music being made on campus. Our gift was intended to promote that exposure in fun and seamless ways. A Penn Band Slam can play a role in that goal through both the involvement of talented Penn-based musicians and through the engagement of the Penn community as the audience.

You can read more about Blutt’s music-focused gifts to Penn here and learn about the new Band Slam here. (And for those who plan to do more than listen, note that submissions to join the competition are due by Sept. 21.) The competition will take place during Homecoming on Oct. 27 from 4-7 p.m.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni, Music